24z THE GAY GENIUS
garden home of Prince Wang Shien. This is the great "Gathering of
Scholars at the Western Garden",* celebrated in painting by Li and
fully described by Mi Fei. Present were the three great painters ot"
Sung dynasty, Su Tungpo, Mi Fei and Li Lungmien, arid Su's brother
and his four disciples. Stone tablets are spread beneath the tall cypresses'
and bamboos in the garden. At the top, a cascade flows into a great
river, covered on both banks with flowers and bamboos. Two conou^
bines of the host, wearing high coiffures with many hair ornaments,
are standing behind the table. Su Tungpo, in his black cap and yellow
gown, is leaning over the table writing, while Prince Wang Shien sits
near-by looking on. At another table, Li Lungmien is writing a poem
by Tao Chien, while Tseyu, Huang Tingchien, Chang Lei, Chao
Puchih are all grouped around the table. Mi Lei, standing, head up-
turned, is inscribing something on a rock near-by. Chin Kuan seats
himself among the gnarled roots of a tree listening to someone playing
on a stringed instrument, while others are scattered about, kneeling -ug
standing in different postures. Monks and other scholars make up the
rest of the crowd.
It is generally recognised that Su's writing was at its best when he
was intoxicated or inspired, and considering the rapid rhythm required
in the execution of Chinese calligraphy or paintings, one can well
believe it. When he was chief examiner of the imperial examinations
in 1088, he and his artist friends Li Kunglin, Huang Tingchien, and
Chang Lei were locked up for a period of at least seven or eight weeks
as fellow judges of the examinations, forbidden to communicate with
the outside world until the final grading of the papers had been comj
pleted. In their spare time, Li Kunglin painted horses to amuse him-
self, Huang wrote lugubrious or macabre verse on ghosts, and they
told one another tall tales of Taoists and fairies. As for Su Tungpo,
Huang wrote: "Tungpo loved to write, but one must not beg for his
autographs. Those who do so are sometimes bluntly refused. When
we were locked up in the ministry of education during the examina-
tions, every time he saw paper lying on the desk, he would start to
cover it up with his writing, regardless of the quality of the paper.
He loved to drink, but after four or five cups was already dead drunk.
Without ceremony he went and stretched himself out and began to
snore like thunder. After a while he woke up, approached the tal^k.
and began to write or paint as fast as the wind. Even his jocular versei
had a great charm. Indeed, he was one of the fairies."
Su Tungpo says of his own practice of the art: "I realise that full
mastery is not just license, but arises from perfection of details. But
* The painting reproduced in the book is a late copy, probably Ming, and some
of the details have been changed. Three of the original figures are missing. In
the copy at the Peking Palace Museum, of which I have seen only a reproduction,
all sixteen figures are preserved.